You thought you knew him, but not like this.
If you know TRUE’s VP Operations for IT Services, Heath Gieson, chances are you love him as much as we do. If you love him like we do, you also probably know that Heath has built much of our TRUE IT Managed Services, which currently support a great many happy customers…but did you know he also has a security background? Was a writer? Entertainer? We thought not. So today, we’re delving into the background of this “tech guy” with a Q & A style interview that will challenge your preconceived notions of IT. In fact, we’ll venture a guess that Heath might just be one of the most colorful IT professionals you’ll ever meet.
How did you find your way to IT?
As a double major in Poli Sci and Journalism, I stepped in as the editor of our student newspaper. Strangely, a donor passed away and the left the student newspaper two Macintosh computers, so I thought it would be cool to learn how to put a paper out on a computer instead of the paste-up method we were using. Like most tech people, I just read the manuals and figured out how to network the computers, getting them up and running pretty quickly.
Shortly thereafter, knowing I brought our paper into the digital age, the head of the English department asked me to assist him in writing a grant that would provide computer labs specifically for English students to use in their writing. To foster a more creative environment, he wanted to use Macintosh computers. So, we ended up building three labs with about twenty Macs in each lab–collectively known as The Write Place.
On the heels of that project, I was hired by the school IS department to work as a lab attendant and to administer the Mac lab, which eventually grew to include the PC lab. At that point, I knew almost nothing about PCs, but I soon realized I was more adept on them than were most of my Computer Science counterparts. It just came very naturally to me. A year later, I went to work for a manufacturing company as the head of their Information Systems Department. Several years later, I left to pursue a career as IT Consultant. At least that’s how I heard it happened.
What motivated you to make the jump to the security auditing side of the house?
Several years ago–way, way back in the year 2000–I started a Systems Integration firm. We specialized in working .com startups and helping CIOs understand how to build out and manage large systems. The one part of the system that no one ever understood was the security piece, so I decided to specialize in the security consulting side. This just naturally lead to doing some auditing (I should here point out that auditing then was not what it is today), so I set out to get my CISSP. The goal was always to find a better way to integrate security into the everyday IT practices. For me, it just always made sense that the two areas really needed to work hand-in-hand with each other.
What is the most exciting breach you've ever encountered?
The world of data breaches is not usually what I would classify as exciting. They are usually far less glamorous that what is seen on TV and in movies. Normally, it’s a series of long, drawn-out, small moves by the person trying to compromise a system and, more importantly, the data. Oftentimes, they are so small and so drawn out that it’s difficult to notice without the proper tools in place, like SIEM and NSM. (We still want to keep our image of what we see on Blacklist, Heath. Let us dream.)
Tell us about your foray into the media entertainment industry, as well as any music genres that inspire you in life/work/home.
All through high school and most of my college years, I was a theater nut. (You, dramatic?? Never!!!)I was involved with dozens of productions, from stage craft to acting, and even directing, I loved everything about it…but I also loved IT, and it paid a lot better. So, I had to set my interest in the arts aside and became just a spectator, developing a passion for listening to music–namely old blues. I really like stuff from the old Mississippi Delta Blues era. I was attending a lot of blue concerts and for years kept saying, “Someday I’m going to learn to play the guitar.” Then one day, my wife stood in the middle of my home office–which at the time had over 15 physical servers and, let’s just say, lots of networking and security gear–informing me I needed a hobby.
I told her she was crazy and to just look around at what happened the last time I got a hobby. Long story short, she bought me a guitar and some lessons. In fact, one of my close friends and fellow TRUE team member, Robbie MacDonald, help me tune my first guitar. He taught me what a chord was, and how to play it. Robbie and I started getting together every Wednesday evening in the office for Guitar Night. Eventually, other team members, like Tom Carracino, joined. Next thing you know, we had band made of TRUE employees, and even had a client or two join. Today the members of the band have changed a few times, but most all of us have worked for or with TRUE in various capacities. We always say we play classic rock, kinda. Our tag line is, “We suffered for our music, now it’s your turn.” And yes, now when my wife looks at the collection of 8 guitars, 4 amplifiers, multiple peddle boards, mixing boards, microphones, speakers, stage lights and tubs of cables, I can respond, “Aren’t you glad I got a hobby?” (We’ve heard rumors that Heath was also a radio voice at one point. Be sure to ask him about this.)
Speaking of home, can you tell us about the people in your life who matter most to you?
I am blessed that have a good number of people I can call friend, and all of them mean the world to me. But my wife and daughter are the ones who matter most. I met my wife in high school (Heath, we think that’s adorable) during a theater arts summer camp at Northern Illinois University. The week after the camp her family moved to South Florida. We stayed in touch through the years, and I eventually convinced her to marry me, twelve years later. Now we have one daughter, and she is the greatest thing ever. Currently 11 years old, she is deeply involved with musical theater and the National Junior Honor Society. She is currently playing Burt in her theater school’s production of Mary Poppins.(Shocking!)
To read more about Heath, read our recent blog post on MSP attacks in which Heath explains why TRUE’s foundational secure IT practices ensured our clients were unaffected by these malicious threat actor exploits.